Central African Republic: Cathedral Massacre

Source: http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com

Date:  May 9, 2018

- tensions in Bangui at boiling point; threat of renewed conflict.

by Elizabeth Kendal

Bangui is the mostly Christian capital city of mostly Christian Central 
African Republic (CAR). Within the city is a Muslim enclave known as PK5. 
When Seleka - an alliance of local and foreign Islamic militias - seized 
control of Bangui in March 2013, communal violence quickly spiralled out of 
control [see RLPB 210 (15 May 2013)]. Vigilante 'self-defence' militias 
proliferated on both sides. Today, PK5's 'self-defence' militias comprise 
mostly ex-Seleka fighters. Initially the Muslims of PK5 welcomed the 
militants. However, once security in Bangui had been restored, PK5's militias 
did not retire. Rather, they got busy running extortion and protection 
rackets, attacking and robbing local civilians and blocking the return of 
state authorities. Harassed and helpless, PK5's Muslim residents repeatedly 
sought help from MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping force. Eventually, with 
community leaders serving as mediators, MINUSCA gave the militias an 
opportunity to voluntarily disarm and participate in socioeconomic programs 
along with the wider community. The militias refused, leaving MINUSCA with no 
option but to act.  

At 2 am on Sunday 8 April armed peacekeepers and CAR security forces moved 
into PK5 to dismantle the criminal militia bases. Fighting continued through 
the day; eleven peacekeepers were wounded along with 20 others, including 
many civilians. Fresh violence erupted on Tuesday 10 April, culminating in a 
four-hour gun battle. Afterwards, hundreds of angry PK5 residents laid the 
bodies of 16 dead Muslim civilians in front of MINUSCA headquarters. MINUSCA 
spokesperson, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, was furious that the criminals had armed 
civilians and deliberately placed them in harm's way. [As the militants were 
no doubt aware, in an asymmetric conflict, the weaker force gets immense 
propaganda value from dead civilians.] Islamic militias vowed revenge.  

On the morning of Tuesday 1 May a PK5 militia leader, Moussa Empereur, was 
wounded while resisting arrest. In retaliation, his militia headed straight 
for Bangui's Catholic Cathedral, Notre Dame de Fatima Church, shooting 
civilians as they went. Inside the Cathedral were some 1500 Catholics 
(including state officials such as Tina Touadera, the First Lady, and Francis 
Bozize, the son of a former president) who had gathered for the anniversary 
of St Joseph. The militants threw grenades into the church. Fr Albert 
Toungoumale-Baba (71), vicar of St Mathias (2km away) and chaplain of the 
Fraternite Saint Joseph movement, was leading the celebration; he was killed 
in a blast and died by the pulpit. In all, at least 24 were killed and more 
than one hundred wounded. A large crowd of distraught and traumatised 
Christians attempted to carry the body of their slain priest to the Palais de 
la Renaissance, the country's presidential palace. They had been hoping to 
see their president, Faustin-Archange Touadera, but with tensions soaring, 
police intervened and dispersed the crowd. The Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal 
Dieudonne Nzapalainga appealed for calm: 'It's at most difficult moments like 
this that true heroes arise and find the strength to propose an alternative, 
saying no to the evil of violence, barbarism and destruction, and choosing 
the good of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,' he said.  

On Friday 4 May Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji announced that a convoy 
comprising several vehicles loaded with fighters belonging to the Popular 
Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa (FPRC) had been stopped near 
Dekoa. Dekoa is 80km south of the front-line, rebel-held town of Kaga 
Bandoro, on the road to the capital, Bangui. Alarmed residents had spotted 
the convoy and alerted authorities who then captured the militants. After the 
8-10 April clashes, FPRC was one of two Islamic militias that threatened to 
launch an offensive on Bangui from Kaga Bandoro.  

Whilst MINUSCA maintains that the Cathedral massacre was a spontaneous 
reaction to the arrest of Moussa Empereur, the government suspects the attack 
on the cathedral had actually been pre-planned. Tensions are soaring. 
Barricades have been erected in and around the PK5 neighbourhood and 
residents are blocking access to MINUSCA troops. There are fears Bangui could 
be engulfed in a fresh outbreak of conflict. Religious leaders have 
proclaimed 'three days of prayer in all the churches and mosques, 10, 11 and 
12 May'. May the Lord of all grace and mercy hear and answer their prayers.  


* expose and sever all the supply-lines that keep CAR's Islamic militants 
(many of whom are foreign fighters) flush with funds for weapons and 

* intervene to 'turn back the battle' and help MINUSCA and CAR's Armed Forces 
restore security and liberate territory currently held by Islamic militias. 
'Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of 
the Lord our God.' (Psalm 20:7 ESV)  

* bless and empower the peacemakers - Christian and Muslim; may he magnify 
their voices, multiply their message and open people's hearts to receive it, 
so that CAR will know peace.  

* grant divine wisdom to all CAR's political, religious and community 
leaders, that they will make wise decisions, utter wise words, and provide 
wise leadership to a traumatised, frightened nation; may the Lord redeem all 
suffering to the praise of his glorious name.  

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